In honour of Uganda's Kafunda Mama

Saturday October 21 2023

An artwork of Kafunda Mama by Chritine Nyatho. PHOTO | COURTESY


All of Uganda, it is said, converges in Kampala to make a living. All these people are held together by Kafunda Mama, the quintessential female street food vendor.

Kafundas (“little places” in Luganda) are small roadside shops, which often double up as a bar and a social space, often operated by women.

Kafunda Mama is the mother hustling for her family, waking up in the dead of night to prepare her business at a kafunda, cooking by the roadside, providing passersby with a meal or school children with a bag of homemade crisps.

It is these female street vendors that self-taught Ugandan artist Christine Nyatho pays tribute to in her first solo exhibition at Amasaka Gallery titled Kafunda Mama.

Read: Who better to depict the African story than the African artist?

According to Amasaka Gallery, in her work Nyatho taps into the unstoppable life force of motherhood. She combines barkcloth and found fabrics. She chooses to expose stitches added by the craftsman, little scars originating from the process of the material’s production: Barkcloth is created by beating the bark of the wild fig tree to flatten it out to a thin fabric.


Wherever the cloth breaks in this process, the craftsman stitches it back together. Nyatho deliberately choses parts of the barkcloth that are covered with these signs of tearing and healing and surrounds them with her own embroidery.

On display are 12 new, large artworks made of embroidery and acrylics on barkcloth at the show that runs from September 15 to November 3.

“Mama Gundi,” for example, depicts the sun, moon and white dots. Mama Gundi is the name used by someone who forgets the real name of a person.

The artwork “Blossom” depicts yellow flowers and embroidery. It shows how a kafunda mama starts her day, with a beautiful smile, hoping to do better than the day before.

“Seasons” shows two doves flying in the air and embroidery. It is about the seasons in our lives and so do the kafunda mamas. Every season that comes in gives them something new to look up too.

Read: Faces and phases of African life in art

There are also pieces such as “Drama Queen”, “Game Changer”, “Leafy Mind,” and “Her Place”.

According to Nyatho, the exhibition is a chance to tell a story about these women who make our lives easier through doing what they do in there small spaces (kafundas).”

She says that she chose barkcloth to combine the modern and the present.”